Sunday, December 28, 2014

When You Choose Hope, Anything Is Possible

Looking at the pictures below and thinking about the emergency surgeries a year ago, it's clear anything is possible... when you choose hope. It doesn't mean success is inevitable or even likely, but when you choose hope, and combine it with dogged strength, the amazing support of great friends and family, and a healthy dash of luck, anything is possible. 

Forrest blew us all away during this trip to Playa del Carmen. Even tasks like climbing onto a boat moving up-and-down and side-to-side in the surge were unbelievably challenging, but with the Lees watching every step, and with Forrest's characteristic persistence, he surpassed all expectations. Forrest snorkeled for the first time in over four years, and was just as comfortable underwater as he was when he and I crawled into lava tubes 50 feet underwater in Hawaii. Toliver made great strides with helping open doorways for future service dogs in Mexico. The laws protecting the rights of people with service dogs in Mexico are new (2012) and are lesser known. We did find very helpful and accommodating resort and restaurant managers and hopefully the transition will be easier for future service dogs. It was an amazing, magical trip with the Lees, and Forrest summed it up as "Sweet."

Now to continue getting Forrest strong and prepared for the surgery at Johns Hopkins in two weeks! 


  Last Year Christmas Day in the ICU
                                                                                 This Year Christmas Day - boat snorkel in Mexico!

Testing out masks in the pool

Forrest and I exploring the reef!

Our overly friendly snorkel companion

Night out on the town!

Forrest and Madison starting a street band

Thursday, December 18, 2014

December 18th, 2014

It's been a great December. It's amazing to see how well Forrest is coming along, getting stronger and working hard, with his amazing community of friends and support team beside him. Forrest passed his midterm for his first college course, American History, as a result of lots of studying with Tami. He's been busy with a plethora of activities, as seen below.

This time last year Forrest was in the hospital getting ready for emergency surgery on Christmas day, so we are definitely cherishing every moment of this holiday season. Forrest is getting stronger, and as he gets ready for early January, which will bring the first of two complicated cranioplasty surgeries, we are thankful for this wonderful community, along with Forrest's strength, love, and indomitable sense of humor. We hope everyone has a terrific holiday season with friends and family.

Austin, Forrest, Mom and Dad

Forrest sang his heart out at A Place To Be Christmas recital, along with other amazing APTB kids, in front of a crowd of more than 300

Many friends surprised Forrest for his 22nd Birthday on Monday!

Forrest on an exciting Walmart trip picking out a bow-and-arrow for a gift exchange. Forrest, how did we ever get Mom to approve that?

Getting ready for the Middleburg Christmas Ball

Forrest and Tori showing off dance moves at the Ball

Forrest and many others braved the pouring rain to march with Canine Companions for Independence in the Middleburg Christmas Parade
*Rocky theme music* PT with Del

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving greetings from snowy BrightWood!
Hello friends and Happy Thanksgiving from Team 44!  We have so many things to be thankful for this are just a few! Our amazing family and friends that bless us with unending love and encouragement; the many doctors, nurses, teachers and therapists that have spent countless hours helping Forrest on his journey;  A Place to Be and the Same Sky Project for giving Forrest a chance to share his story; the opportunity to travel to Bermuda as a family; Forrest graduating from high school and starting college (and Austin starting Grad school!); and of course, the light of hope and belief in Forrest from each of you, his steadfast supporters.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving and move into the ever-busy Christmas season, we would like to invite you to a very special event.  Next Friday evening, December 5th, individuals from A Place to Be (including Forrest) will be performing in a Holiday Recital.  It begins at 6:30pm at the Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg.  Please come for a night of inspiration and holiday joy!

Wishing all of you a safe and blessed Thanksgiving,
Team 44
Austin is home!  These 3 furry faces showed their support for cancer awareness by participating in
"No-Shave November".
Learn more here:

We would love to hear what you are thankful for this year!  :-) 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Back to Work

Someone told us early on that "recovery is not for the faint of heart". 

It's clear Forrest that, as one of your followers recently wrote to you, "You have the heart of a warrior!"

Two weeks out from your last surgery and we are already on countdown to your next .... eight weeks and four days from today.  And you are hard at work to sharpen your mind, strengthen your body, improve your voice and regain your balance.  

Pilates is both fun and challenging with Kay and Toliver on guard.

NOVA offered you a medical exemption to withdraw from your online history course, but you refuse to quit. So you and Tami double your efforts to catch up and prepare for your mid term exam.  

At PT, your pal Del has to tell you enough after you complete three more reps than he asks for!

Your friend Derek stays close to catch you if you loose your balance playing pool, but that doesn't stop you both from enjoying a seriously close match! 

Onward and upward, Champ.  Your courage, sense of humor, and your unwavering friends will carry you on wherever the road leads! 

Blessed to be on Team Forrest,

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Home At Last !


Thank you All for the prayers, warm wishes, encouragement, Skypes, visits, TLC and faith in Forrest. 

There really is no place like home! 

And Austin's homecoming for Thanksgiving, is just around the bend!
 We have much to be a Thankful for. 

God Bless,



We are forever grateful for the incredible care Forrest has received this week at Johns Hopkins and for Tami and Nurse Dawn's round the clock vigilance!  

This morning Dr Kumar enthusiastically described Forrest's trajectory as "definitively upward"!  Right now our trajectory is BrightWood bound and we couldn't be happier.  

Toliver was especially thrilled when FINALLY  Forrest joined him on his ride down the elevator and out the front door.  The whole outside world is indeed brighter! 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Happy Saturday

Forrest had a good day today.  He woke up with a smile on his face and his voice was much louder and clearer than the previous few days.  He walked down the hall with help from the hospital Physical Therapist, played catch with Toliver and Skyped with awesome friends Nick and Tori.  We are still on track to break out of Hopkins midday tomorrow and will do our best to keep you all updated. 
-Team 44
Thumbs up with Nick
44 trying not to smile for a pic with Tami.  He said we could only post this pic if it was small.  :)
A day late, but this is playing basketball with friend Ben on Friday.  44 is being supported by a physical therapist behind him in this pic...he's not quite steady on his own yet.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Grateful for Special "Noggins "

Among the many blessings bestowed upon our family during this journey of Forrest's recovery are the amazing doctors nurses therapists teachers aides caregivers extended family members and friends who have so generously given their time energy talent and devotion to help Forrest find his path.  

Today Dr. Kumar and Forrest delighted in putting their "Noggins" together outside of the operating room!  

The current plan is to give Forrest another day at Johns Hopkins to make certain he is stable on the new medications and that the new stomach access is healed well enough to be fully functional. If all goes well tomorrow, we hope to be BrightWood bound on Sunday!!!

Many thanks for all your blog comments, Facebook posts, video messages, texts, prayers and positive energy. We couldn't do this without you. 

With Love & Gratitude,
Team Forrest

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Update from Johns Hopkins

Hi friends.  Forrest had a relatively quiet day today.  His head bandages came off early this morning and the doctors are very pleased with how it looks.  Forrest is still weak - from a combination of residual anesthetic, pain medication and a new seizure medication.  He also has not had any nutrition for three days!  This is because of the surgery on his stomach and the new tube location, which is looking good so far.  He received Pedialyte through his new tube today and the current plan is to start with a little bit of smoothie nutrition tomorrow. 

We have only heard a few words from Forrest since surgery, but we know he is able to talk, which is a blessing!  We believe the overall weakness as well as a sore throat from being intubated during surgery are the reasons he has not made much effort to speak yet.  He has been relying on gestures, small smiles and writing to communicate.  Here is a message from him to all his incredible supporters!

Forrest saved his biggest smiles of the day for his friend Christina, who fought the Baltimore rain and traffic to brighten 44's day.  Seeing his face brighten up when she walked into the room proves that there is no better magic than friendship!

Thank you all for the wonderful messages, thoughts and prayers!  Although this week did not begin as we had hoped, we are confident in Forrest's unwavering spirit, the support of his team at Johns Hopkins and the healing love from friends and family.

- Team 44

Thanks Christina!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Matrix

Forrest, Rae, Toliver and I started the day early.  We went over at six to relieve Tami after her all night vigil at Forrest bedside. Toliver was excited to see Forrest. 44 was determined to catch as much sleep as possible before they took him off to preOp.
The morning was a flurry of doctors quick discussion about what's going to go on and sign authorization forms.  Since we were doing multiple procedures there was a timetable that had to be closely followed. G.I. surgeon's, central IV lines and craniofacial reconstructive surgery was all going on with multiple doctors and nurses involved.  Dr Kumar was orchestrating and had the starring role in the scalp reconstruction,  
The whole process had been turned in serious doubt from the seizure the day before.  We were determined to understand the cause before we went forward with the procedures today. Once we were finally able to determine that it was simply a medication adjustment we could proceed on.  Dr. Kumar picked the group back up realigned everyone in the process and it went smoothly on today. 
These procedures today were to prepare the scalp for the reconstructive bone grafts which will reform his cranium.  This is going to be done in two stages in the winter and spring.  The stomach tube or PEG tube which he receives a large amount of his water and medications through was giving him troubles and was approximately three years old.  It needed to be surgically revised and a new connection to put the tube through his stomach. 
Both these procedures were achieved in good order.  Forrest is resting comfortably with a little bit of IV pain medication to help him through the day.  
Toliver is very relieved to be bed side with Forrest and be back in the same room as it makes him concerned when he is separated for any length of time.  Operating rooms are one of the few places that service dogs cannot go.
So Rae and Tami are resting preparing to take back over while I am sitting bedside with the boy as he is sleeping.
We have dodged another bullet. There are some days weeks months and years we feel like we must be living in "The Matrix"movie we have been dodging so many bullets.  With a little luck we will be out of here on the weekend and back at Brightwood.
Thanks for all your support, prayers  and care.
Dad and Team 44 

Rough morning... A better night

This morning within minutes of waking, Forrest had a grand mal seizure lasting approximately 7 minutes. 

Terrifying. I cradle your head and call for help.  Toliver rushes to your side. The rapid response team and a herd of specialists storm into your room. Your whole body contorts, your oxygen level plummets and you lose consciousness. 

I hold your hand Forrest and command you to stay with me. My own heart races matching yours. The number of doctors and nurses in the room swells and spills out into the hall. Orders fly around the room.  A resident lifts your chin to open your airway applies a mask to your face and begins positive pressure ventilation.  Someone slides a board under your back preparing for CPR. Another places a catheter in your arm draws blood and administers meds.  This can't be happening. Look at me Forrest. Find my eyes.  Squeeze my hand. I can't loose you now.

An eternity passes.  Finally finally your eyes find my eyes and you squeeze my hand. Your heart steadies and then so does mine.  The entire room begins to breathe again.

We transition from crisis mode to what happened? Why? After the seizure, for hours you can't use the left side of your body, lift your left arm, wiggle the toes on your left foot, no left thumbs up.  You don't speak.

A stroke? The shunt?  Neurologists,  neurosurgeons, internists confer. Cat scans blood work exams more residents more questions. Mostly you sleep. By Late afternoon most of the worst possibilities have been ruled out.

You wake, lift your head, look over at me and smile. My heart breaks all over again. So precious so fragile is this life.  In an instant the world shifts and then shifts again.

Gradually through the day you resurface. Your eyes are clouded, your balance off.  Endless neuro exams get the date right but think you're in Mercersburg. Or you nail the location but think it's March.  

The best medicine comes in the form of face time with your friends and calls from Austin. You find your voice for them.  They believe in you without question and that belief sustains us. They joke with you.  You joke back. The connection is made. You are here with us, alive, still moving forward, rebuilding your life. 

Tonight with all the tests in, your team of specialists decide the most likely cause of your seizure is related to complications with your medications. Adjustments are made and the decision is to move forward with surgery tomorrow. 

You are strong Forrest. You are loved.  You have much yet to accomplish in your life. You can do this. And we will be there to cheer you on.  

As your uncle John said the weekend you were injured, "Failure is not an option." Sweet dreams, Forrest.   Tomorrow belongs to you. 


Rattled but still Forrest.  Determined  Unsinkable. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Update from Hopkins

Forrest is settled into his room at Hopkins after a busy day of testing and studying.  Based on the ultrasound and GI contrast radiology from this morning, the plan is still that both surgeries (mentioned in the previous blog post here: November 1st Blog ) will take place on Wednesday.  Forrest was not allowed to eat anything ALL day today and made up for it tonight by eating two dinners!  Down time between appointments and being admitted was filled with college coursework and nap time. Toliver faithfully watched over Forrest today, despite his visible concern about being back at the hospital.  He was quite reluctant to leave Forrest tonight and is anxiously awaiting morning.  Tomorrow for 44 will consist of college studying, getting some pre-surgery rest and charming the hospital staff.  He will have a PICC line put in at some point during the day and will once again be unable to eat anything to prepare for surgery.

We'll update when we can.  

As always, we are thankful for your unwavering support of Forrest.

-Team 44  

Forrest was not super thrilled about studying for his college class today, but he worked hard!

Nap time!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Back to Johns Hopkins tomorrow

October has been a wonderful month filled to the brim with family, friends and new adventures.  

I think Forrest summed it up best in his answer to a student's question after a recent Same Sky performance. The pretty high school senior stepped up to the microphone and asked Forrest, "How has your disability impacted your life?"  I held my breath because I never really know what Forrest is going to say... I needn't worry. He smiled his charming crooked smile at her and replied, "I wouldn't really consider it a disability. I've had lots of fun and new opportunities since my accident....that I didn't really think were going to be possible. But thanks for asking!" 

One of the most Incredible opportunities Forrest has had is to be a part of the Same Sky cast. Their contagious comaraderie and courageous  performances have touched the hearts and minds of more than 6000 students during October, Disabilities Awareness Month. Who could have imagined this would be possible???

Sometimes the best adventures take you out of your comfort zone and off the beaten path.  Time in the woods always seems like a good idea to me. So Forrest and Toliver joined Dolphin Quest's stream clean up outing.  In spite of the rain and the uncertain hike, we kept Forrest dry and safe.  It turned out to be a delightful new form of group physical therapy...picking up trash! 

Gio and Shayna's spontaneous week end visit motivated us to venture out for Gold Cup.  With both of them glued to his side, Forrest was able to safely navigate the terrain (without his wheel chair!) and thoroughly enjoyed a gorgeous fall day at the races.  The best part of the day was to see Forrest enthusiastically embraced by friends and followers who were thrilled to see him out and about!

Back at BrightWood, under Gio's careful watch Forrest picked up a Lacrosse stick for the first time since his August surgery. Naturally, his first toss to Gio was a behind the back pass! By the end of an hour long practice, Forrest was stepping into the groove and slamming the ball into the net! 

I store all of these precious moments in my mother's heart, grateful beyond words for Forrest's unsinkable spirit, the love and faith of family and friends, the blessing of bright, joyful, autumn days at home. 

Tomorrow we pack up Forrest's mobile entourage and head back to Johns Hopkins for Forrest's 16th surgery.  He will likely spend five days in the hospital for tests and consultations prior to a dual surgery on Wednesday, November 5th.  The current plan is for a gastroenterology surgeon to surgically close his leaky troublesome stomach tube and replace it in a more functional location.  Simultaneously Dr. Kumar, his cranial facial reconstructive surgeon, plans to surgically excise an old devitalized skin graft on his scalp. This will make sure there is a healthy resilient surgical site for the two bone graft surgeries to follow in 3 and 6 months. 

It is hard to leave the relative safety and peace of home to head back into our own personal war zone.  But we are grateful, both for the time we've had at home to recharge and for next week's opportunity at Johns Hopkins to continue Forrest's journey of recovery.  Wherever it takes us, Team Forrest will go together with a glad heart and the strength of our faith and conviction. 

We will do our best to keep the blog updated next week.  Your comments and messages of encouragement are always a great boost to our morale and keep us  focused on a future bright with endless possibilities!

God Bless,


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Update from Toliver

Hello from Toliver.  I would like to tell you what Forrest and I have been up to lately.  

Blogging Puppy!
The Same Sky Project has been keeping us VERY busy.  We performed at three schools last week and  Mr. Sweitzer said we have now performed for over 1200 students!  Thursday was special because we did a show at Highland, which is the school where Forrest was attending when he had his accident.  They were very welcoming to Forrest and the rest of the cast. We also did a special community performance last Saturday at Hill School!   It was my third birthday and my “mom” Colleen (CCI Puppy Raiser) came to the show.  Both Forrest and I were so excited to see her.  I haven’t seen her since December, so I covered her in kisses.  It was the best birthday ever!

Austin came home for the long weekend and we had lots of fun spending time with him.  We took Pops shooting for his birthday.  It was loud so I stayed in the car, but I saw a video of Forrest doing really good shooting a soda can.  You can see it here: Shooting the Can Video

Austin also took Forrest for a ride on the four wheeler at the farm!   

Grandma Norma and her sisters came to visit us last week too.  It was really nice having them here!  Sundance and I were disappointed that we didn't get to try any of the delicious smelling things that they baked.  Forrest said everything was tasty.  They were here for Pops’ birthday and the show on Saturday too.  BrightWood was definitely busy, but we all loved it!

Forrest started his online college U.S. History class today!  It sounds like it is going to be a lot of work and move pretty fast, but I think Forrest likes history so he will hopefully do a really good job.

Thanks for supporting my Forrest!  Love, Toliver
On Stage during "44" at the Same Sky Project
Family time!

At Highland
With 44 and Colleen, my puppy raiser